Who will be holding the Queen’s Park Shield aloft next April?
That’s the question on everyone’s lips as Scottish Student Football prepares to welcome back one of its most sought-after honours.
And with the road to the final at Ainslie Park on April 3rd beginning next week, YFS is on hand with everything you need to know before the round of 16 gets underway.
With almost 100 years of history, this is the prize everyone in student football is desperate to get their hands on.
And to see how much it means to those involved, you need look no further than the St. Andrews team that won the tournament earlier this year - their first victory since 1943:
“It was a massive achievement to finally win it,” Stuart Milne, Director of Football at St. Andrews, told YFS. “Not just for the football programme, but for the university as a whole.
“There’s been a lot of money invested in sport at St. Andrews over the last ten years, so it was great for raising awareness of what it’s like here.
“Hopefully we won’t have to wait 75 years to win it again.”
St. Andrews begin their defence of the Shield at home to Edinburgh Napier but will be doing so without many of the players that led them to glory last season; of the 16 in the squad back in April, only six remain with the university:
“It’s a new team, so we don’t want them carrying any expectation,” said Milne. “We’re relying on some of the guys who played in the final that are still with us to make the younger players aware of what the game is and what it means to the university – but without putting too much pressure on them.
“We know the game in a couple of weeks will be a tough one; we played Napier recently in a league game and were able to beat them, but it will be very tough.”
Upon its inception back in 1921, the tournament was competed for by Scotland’s four ancient universities – Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews - but has since expanded and is now competed for by the country’s top university teams.
And in recent years, it’s been Stirling that have laid down a marker in the competition: they’ve won six of the last ten tournaments – most recently in 2017.
As first team captain Lewis Hunter explains, success means a pressure to do well:
“I think there is an expectation on us to go and win the trophy,” he said. “I would say we’re probably the favourites every year to win it and if we don’t it’s probably seen as a failure – if you want to put it that way.”
Stirling - who spend the season competing against some of the best of Britain in the BUCS Premier North Division - begin their attempts to reclaim the Shield at home to Edinburgh College.
Hunter said: “We’ll be expected to beat them but it’ll be tough.
“I think they’ll set up to defend and it’ll be our job to break them down, but hopefully we can get a win and move into the next round.”
Elsewhere in the last 16, 2018’s beaten finalists Strathclyde face a tough test at home to BUCS Division 2A rivals Dundee.
Dundee, who were promoted from Division 3A last season, narrowly lost at Strathclyde 2-1 in a league match at the end of October, but captain Steven Roberts is hoping for a different result this time out:
“They are a good team, but we showed recently that we can match them,” he said. “It will be tough of course; we just need everyone to be up for it and win our individual battles all over the pitch and take our chances when they come.
“There is a real belief about the squad this season that we can beat anyone, we feel in the games that we have lost luck wasn't on our side so hopefully that begins to change soon.”
Edinburgh – the most successful team in QPS history – begin their quest for a first title since 2015 at home to Queen Margaret.
The visitors are flying high in Division 5B but face a tough test against an Edinburgh side six divisions above them.
Glasgow Caledonian University make the daunting trip north to take on the reigning British Cup Champions and the team currently sitting top of Division 1A, Robert Gordon University.
RGU defeated Bournemouth University 4-1 in March's BUCS Trophy final, and are keen to add a first Queen’s Park Shield victory to their list of accomplishments.
Stuart Alexander, club President and captain of the first team, said: “The Queen’s Park Shield is an extremely prestigious title to carry for any University within Scotland, and we look forward to the opportunity to compete against other top universities and hopefully go on a successful cup journey.
“The new additions to our team this year have taken the challenge of Division 1A in stride, and we’ve gained some exceptional talent that has strengthened the squad.
“[Against GCU] If we turn up on the day, I am confident that our talent within the team will be able to produce a positive performance.”
Meanwhile, Heriott-Watt – who won the Shield five years in a row between 2004 and 2008 – have had an indifferent start to the season in Division 1A, but will fancy themselves at home to a West of Scotland side playing two divisions below them.
The draw has also thrown up a battle of two Dundee based sides as Abertay host Dundee & Angus College.
The home side, who play in Division 1A, will be looking to improve on last season’s round of 16 exit when they welcome their city rivals.
Finally, in what may be the tie of the first round, two of the original four QPS competitors - and the first two sides to ever get their hands on the Shield - go head-to-head as Aberdeen travel south to take on Glasgow.
Aberdeen will be looking to improve on last years performance where they were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual winners St. Andrews, whilst Glasgow will hope to make it further than the quarter-finals this year.
As Aberdeen were a late addition to the draw, a date for this fixture has yet to be finalised.
Stirling v Edinburgh College
St Andrews v Edinburgh Napier
Abertay v D&A
Robert Gordon v Glasgow Caledonian
Strathclyde v Dundee
Glasgow v Aberdeen
Heriot-Watt v West of Scotland
Edinburgh v Queen Margaret